In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Six game at Carolina, starting tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate played a combined 90 snaps on offense. On Sunday in Seattle, they played a combined 11 snaps. That's not an ideal development for a team that has struggled to get production in the passing game behind the extremely productive wideout duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Since that Week Six game at London, in which Howard and Brate contributed a combined 82 yards and a touchdown to an offense that put up 407 net yards of offense, Howard hasn't played due to a hamstring injury. The Buccaneers had a bye week after returning from London, but Howard actually suffered his injury when the team returned to practice the following week. Brate took on a much bigger role in Week Eight at Tennessee with Howard sidelined but he also suffered a painful rib injury.
Brate powered through his injury to remain active on Sunday in Seattle but most of the tight end snaps went to first-year man Tanner Hudson (49), playing in his second NFL game, and blocking ace Antony Auclair (45). The Bucs also employed a jumbo package with reserve tackle Josh Wells on the field as an eligible blocker, in place of a tight end, which may have in part due to another injury suffered in the game, this one by Auclair.
That makes the situation even more complicated heading into Week 10. Head Coach Bruce Arians said all the tight end shuffling and unavailability didn't affect the Bucs' play-calling, but obviously lineup adjustments have to be made when new injuries crop up.
"We used a tackle at times – Josh Wells went in and did some good things in the run game," said Arians on Monday. "Antony Auclair, I thought, played a heck of a ball game. We’ll see – he’s got a bad turf toe. We’ll see where that’s at. Cam sucked it up [and] gave us some snaps."
Brate was only on the field for 11 plays and he was not targeted with a pass, and that puts some doubt on how much he'll be able to contribute in Week 10 against Arizona. Fortunately, there is some good news.
"O.J. should be ready to roll this week and we should get him back," said Arians.
The Buccaneers' offense scored touchdowns on all four of its trips into the red zone, which is a very significant improvement. However, another Tampa Bay drive got to the Seahawks' 20-yard line – one yard shy of the red zone – and ended up with three points after stalling at that spot. The first-down play was a goal line pass to Hudson, who was well-covered but potentially had a shot to make a leaping catch. Hudson, who showed off very good hands during a productive preseason, didn't quite come down with it, though he did later record his first NFL reception, for 12 yards.
"Tanner, I thought had a chance for another touchdown," said Arians. "I’ve seen him catch that ball every time in practice and he didn’t pull it down."
From all he's seen in the preseason and on the practice field, Arians surely still has confidence calling plays for Hudson. That said, the Buccaneers would definitely be a more dangerous team in the red zone if Howard was available. Though the third-year tight end has had a surprisingly slow start to 2019 and has yet to find the end zone, he scored 11 touchdowns in 24 games in his first two campaigns.